Once we acknowledge that our time is limited, it becomes urgent that we bring ourselves to a state from which we’d be ready to exit this life. Some of us already feel that our lives are “in order”; we don’t have any crippling neuroses, disabling fears or dominant resentments. But for others, knowing that we may be in the final phase of life can bring our broken places into bold relief.
There are a number of reflections and exercises that Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi recommends in his book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing. One of them is re-framing past experience that we consider “bad”. What did we learn from those experiences or people? If we were forced off a path that we thought was certain, what happened instead? What did we discover? With the perspective of years or decades, how does that difficult or painful experience look now? Can we find anything positive that came out of it? Did we learn (at least) to accept that things were not as we thought they were? Did we develop self-reliance? Resilience? Perseverance? This way of thinking can free us from the burden of old resentments and self-pity. It may take some effort, but this reflection can help us escape mental ruts that keep us in unhappy states.
If we need help exorcising old demons, now’s the time to find appropriate therapeutic support. It could be a close friend, a clergy-person, a peer support group, a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. If we can articulate a problem, we can find someone to help us resolve it.
In hospice work, it’s thought that there may only be a few things that need to be said before we are ready to die:
— I’m sorry
— Please forgive me
— I forgive you
— I love you
That seems to me a pretty comprehensive list. If we live in a state where we don’t owe these words to anyone, we can be at peace. If we part from each person in a way that we’d be glad to remember as our last time with them, then we are always ready for whatever may come.
By “finishing business”, [we] remove the calluses that obstruct the heart, the spontaneous, loving core that connects [us] with [our] essential nature. Without the need to hide behind inauthentic masks, [we] become sensitive and innocent again, awakened to the piercing beauty and preciousness of life. – From Age-ing to Sage-ing, p.159